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Stuffed Shells with Ricotta Cheese

It seems like every time I make an attempt at stuffed shells, something just doesn't work quite right.

Queue the victory music, because I am officially The Champion of Stuffed Shells (not of the world, but I'll take what I can get)! After a little cross-referencing across the 'net at what everyone else was doing, I concocted the following delicious recipe for stuffed shells. It's a great dish with or without the ham. 🙂

Ingredients for Stuffed Shells

  • (1) box large pasta shells  (you'll need 18-20 of them and a glass dish large enough to hold your stuffed shells in a single layer)
  • (1) 15-oz container of ricotta cheese (I opt for full-fat version)
  • (2) 8-oz packages of shredded mozzarella cheese (yep, I opt for the fattiest stuff I can find, LOL!)
  • (2) 8-oz cans tomato sauce (no sodium version is what I use; and I'm talking about the stuff near the diced tomatoes and such, not the pasta sauces)
  • (1) large egg (or extra large)
  • (4 - 6) slices of plain, boiled ham (from the deli; and have them slice thinner than sandwich slices, but not shredded)
  • A sprinkle of garlic powder (or press 2 cloves, but do not use minced or chopped since it won't spread through the mixture well - you'll thank me)
  • A sprinkle of powdered Parmesan cheese
  • A sprinkle of dry basil (or 3 - 4 leafs of fresh basil chopped into ribbons)
  • A splash of heavy cream
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (fresh ground; to taste)
  • Splash of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions for Making the Stuffed Shells

  • Pre-heat your oven to 400° F
  • Cook the pasta shells
    • Boil a pot of water (make sure there's enough water to completely cover ALL of the shells
    • Add pasta shells and a Splash of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    • Cook thoroughly (watch for any that decide to "nest" inside one another and separate if they do or they won't cook through); should take about 10-15 minutes

WHILE THE SHELLS COOK, prepare your cheese filling and tomato sauce for the stuffed shells.

  • Cheese filling
    • In a medium mixing bowl, scramble (1) egg
    • Add (1) 15-oz container of ricotta cheese to the bowl with the egg
    • Add (1) 8-oz packages of shredded mozzarella cheese
    • Mix it all together til uniform (I find folding it together at first helps, then stirring briskly gets the job done)
    • Add in a sprinkle of garlic powder, Salt (to taste) and Pepper (fresh ground; to taste)
    • Mix it all together until it's uniform and the spices are well blended
    • Set this aside
  • Tomato sauce
    • In a smaller mixing bowl, add (2) 8-oz cans tomato sauce
    • Pour in a splash of heavy cream
    • Mix it together until it's a lighter red, almost pink (if it's too dark, add a little more cream)
    • Add in a sprinkle of Salt (to taste) and Pepper (fresh ground; to taste)
    • Mix it all together until it's uniform and the spices are well blended
    • Set this aside

Pasta shells should be ready right around now. If not, keep watch on them until they are (you don't want them overcooked or they'll be moosh!). When done, drain and give a quick rinse with cool water then drain again.

Prep the ham and basil (letting the shells cool a little longer so you can handle them without playing "hot potato"!)

  • Take the ham (4 - 6) slices of plain, boiled deli ham and chop it into pieces. Personally, I like to cut in half, then roll up and cut to ribbons. Then I use my fingertips to separate and chop to almost squares (be messy, it's ok cause they don't need to be anywhere near perfect). Put this aside.
  • If you're using  fresh basil, rinse, dry and stack the leaves. then roll them up (top to bottom along the stem) and chop into ribbons. Use your fingertips to separate. Put this aside.

Now comes the fun part - assembling the stuffed shells!

  • Grab a shell and a small spoon. Scoop 1 - 2 spoonfuls into the shell (it should be full, but not flat - we still want them to LOOK like shells, not lasagna!)
  • Place the shell with the open-side facing up, in your baking dish
  • Repeat with the remaining shells. It's ok to pack 'em in tight, just don't start layering your stuffed shells (it won't end well for you or your oven)
  • Add your ham on top (just spread it around like sprinkles with your fingers)
  • If you're using  fresh basil, add now just like the ham - sprinkle evenly with your fingers (if not, you'll use the dry stuff right before it goes in the oven)
  • Pour the tomato sauce/heavy cream mixture over the top and spread it out so it goes all the way to the edge of the dish
  • Add (1) 8-oz packages of shredded mozzarella cheese on top (evenly spread over the top)
  • Sprinkle the top lightly with powdered Parmesan cheese (unless you want more, then go for it, but don't go overboard)
  • If you're using  dry basil, sprinkle lightly over the top of the whole dish (just enough to add a touch of color cause a little dry spice goes a long way!

Put in the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling (about 20-30 minutes); feel free to kick it up at the very end to the "broil" setting on your stove and watch carefully (cooking just long enough to give a little brownish tint to the cheese)

Let it cool and serve. This was a hit with my family, as I hope it will be with yours!

Tried it? I'd love your ideas, twists and suggestions below!

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